Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa today said the country must now go beyond meeting its national food requirements but must now focus on productivity so that agriculture becomes a real business.
Writing in his weekly column in the Sunday Mail, the President said: “Our attention now has to turn to how much we produce per hectare; per farmer/household, and per given quantity of key inputs. All this takes us into the realm of productivity, while also getting us to focus closely on each variable in the whole gamut of our interventions.
“That also covers post-harvest losses which reduce our marketable surplus.
“We have to be hard on ourselves by minutely focusing on the entire agricultural production continuum: from preparing for the season right up to delivery to depots. It is no longer sufficient to revel in positive aggregate output, both at micro- and at macro-levels.
“We must be more rigorous with ourselves, indeed to use a more onerous set of performance measurements.
“What inputs have we used on the land, and to get what output? What hectarage have we put under crop, and with what result per hectare? What is each dollar invested bringing us by way of marketable surplus? Each unit of electricity, diesel and water used for irrigation? Only that way does our Agriculture become real business, driven by considerations of efficiencies and profitability.”
My instalment comes at a time when the national focus is on Agriculture. The Zimbabwe Agricultural Show, our premier event for the sector, starts this week.
Government is busy moving inputs to all our provinces in readiness for the new season. Our experts who forecast the weather have just revealed that our region is likely to have a normal-to-above normal season.
This is a massive fillip given the mixed season we had previously, and also against the backdrop of the searing drought which has hit many parts in the subcontinents of Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Then we have the conflict in Eastern Europe which has gravely affected global food supply.
Never has the situation been so dire worldwide, which is why we should make the best of our auspicious circumstances. Hence my focus on this vital sector which is also the mainstay of our Economy.
At its inauguration, the Second Republic set its eyes on the goal of achieving National Food Security through local production.
That meant several interventions to raise aggregate production, among them:
- increasing access to, and greater utilisation of the Land;
- sustainably weaning our agriculture from weather-related vicissitudes, thus climate proofing it;
- supporting communal and smallholder Agriculture through various input supply schemes, foremost the Pfumvudza/Intwasa Scheme;
- stabilising Agricultural Finance and Marketing and,
- modernising the Agricultural sector through mechanisation, science and more intensive farmer extension support.
Because of these far-reaching interventions, we were able to achieve a national surplus in a short space of just two seasons, peaking in the 2020-21 season.
Because of that progress, we have been able to mitigate the adverse effects of the 2021-22 season which was affected by mid-season drought.
We must draw hard lessons from this fluctuating performance so we move into the future with greater certainty and predictability.
The weather-induced variations in our Agricultural performance and cereal output shows more needs to be done to climate-proof this sector for sustainable national food security. To that end, we continue to build more lakes and dams, as well as hitching these to agricultural land through modern irrigation systems.
While our aggregate cereal output often surpasses our national requirements, I am concerned that on closer examination, productivity remains low.
Our farmers and the whole Agricultural Society must be challenged to go beyond the aggregate goal of National Food Self-Sufficiency. We must now begin to build efficiencies all round, so more and more we work with farmer-and farm-targeted goals of productivity.
When I look at our output per hectare, or the input-output ratio, both in relation to leading food producers in our Region and in the world, we still have more to do. This sets a new focus for us, both as individual farmers and as an industry. There are lots of inefficiencies belied by positive national aggregate output.
Our attention now has to turn to how much we produce per hectare; per farmer/household, and per given quantity of key inputs. All this takes us into the realm of productivity, while also getting us to focus closely on each variable in the whole gamut of our interventions.
That also covers post-harvest losses which reduce our marketable surplus.
We have to be hard on ourselves by minutely focusing on the entire agricultural production continuum: from preparing for the season right up to delivery to depots. It is no longer sufficient to revel in positive aggregate output, both at micro- and at macro-levels.
We must be more rigorous with ourselves, indeed to use a more onerous set of performance measurements.
What inputs have we used on the land, and to get what output?
What hectarage have we put under crop, and with what result per hectare? What is each dollar invested bringing us by way of marketable surplus? Each unit of electricity, diesel and water used for irrigation? Only that way does our Agriculture become real business, driven by considerations of efficiencies and profitability.
All this, in my view, should begin to be more feasible given the investments we have made in irrigation and in mechanisation; and of course the growing number of extension officers we continue to engage and deploy for greater farmer support. On-farm management is thus key to the whole issue of productivity, the new goal we must now turn to.
Our farmers have heeded our call to put more land under wheat so we offset disruptions related to the conflict in Eastern Europe. I am told we managed to put about 80 000 hectares under the wheat crop. The expected output is about 420 000 tonnes, 20 000 tonnes above our national requirement. This is highly commendable.
Yet there is a more ambitious way of looking at this positive development. Intense performance on the same 80 000 hectares, all of it under irrigation, means we can easily get 800 000 tonnes of grain this coming summer, assuming we achieve at least ten tonnes per hectare.
That would mean a mere 200 000 tonnes shy of half our national grain requirement. With the new focus turning to productivity, this should be easily achievable. Yet 800 000 tonnes is about the aggregate output we attained nationally in the 2021/22 season! We thus need a hard-headed look at productivity.
I am told the global market is short of many agricultural commodities: from cereals, edible oils to cotton lint. With severe droughts related to climate change, the global agricultural commodity supply situation is likely to get worse in the foreseeable future before it gets better. With so much agricultural land on our Continent, Africa’s time has come. Zimbabwe must be a key part of this African Agricultural Century, which is at the core of the Continental Agenda 2063. I am happy our Economy is moving with speed to make the necessary supportive investments, including in the production of more fertilisers.
The time may have come for us to couple our Agricultural sector to global demand. This requires a proper reading and forecasting of global markets, so our crop mix and repertoire of agricultural activities timeously responds to requirements of the world market.
We already do that in respect of tobacco. That discipline must now broaden to cover all areas of agricultural activity.
I am glad the long dormant Cold Storage Company is now set to resume its part in the whole agricultural matrix. With that recovery must be resurrection of our leather and allied industry for which we were famed previously.
Above all, our grand plans to grow Lucerne grass, and to produce stockfeed competitively, must pick pace. This will allow us to increase and improve our National Herd, including in communal areas where the largest herd is found.
Let me conclude by assuring our farmers that Government will do all it can to ensure our agriculture is both modernised and made more rewarding.
Never has both the national and global environment been so favourable to the farmer and the sector. Let us make the best of both, all the time searching for durable solutions which take our Nation forward towards Vision 2030.
By President Emmerson Mnangagwa for the Sunday Mail